Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia

Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia

Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia

Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia


McDonald's restaurants are found in over 100 countries, serving tens of millions of people each day. What are the cultural implications of this phenomenal success? Does the introduction of American fast food undermine local cuisines, many of them celebrated for centuries? Does it, as some critics fear, presage a homogeneous, global culture? These are but a few of the questions confronted in this engaging study that vividly demonstrates how the theories and techniques of anthropology can be used not only to examine obscure peoples and exotic practices, but to shed light on the motivations and behavior of people conducting their daily lives in some of the major population centers of the world.

Earlier studies of the fast food industry have emphasized production, focusing on labor or management. This book takes a fresh approach to the industry by concentrating on the perspective of the consumer. It analyzes consumers' reactions to McDonald's in five East Asian cities: Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. What do they have to say about McDonald's? How is fast food perceived by those who pay to eat it? How do their preferences and biases affect the system of production?

The book argues that McDonald's has largely become divorced from its American roots and become a "local" institution for an entire generation of affluent consumers in Hong Kong, Taipei, and Tokyo. In Beijing, the process of localization has barely begun, with consumers more interested in the experience of eating at McDonald's than in the food itself. In Seoul, many nationalists treat the Big Mac as a symbol of Yankee imperialism; meanwhile, increasing numbers of Korean children are celebrating their birthdays atMcDonald's.

Localization is not, however, a one-way process; the corporation has also had to adapt in order to flourish in new settings. The book demonstrates how consumers, with the cooperation and encouragement of McDona


It seems appropriate to begin with a biography of this project. Why fast food? How did five anthropologists find themselves doing ethnographic studies of McDonald's in East Asia? This is not the sort of study most people think of as the proper subject of anthropology.

I must confess that I was drawn into this project by circumstances not of my own devising. In 1989 Rubie Watson and I made our annual visit to a village in Hong Kong's New Territories, just south of the old Anglo-Chinese border. We have been doing fieldwork in the New Territories since the late 1960s, concentrating on topics that excite anthropologists (if not always the general reader): lineage organization, inheritance patterns, ancestor worship, geomancy, popular religion. Each year we looked forward to treating our host family, including two godsons, to dim sam (tea snacks) in Yuen Long, a market town that has evolved into a booming city. Soon after our arrival in early January 1989, our friends proposed: "Let's go to the new place. That's where the kids want to eat."

Later, as we emerged from our taxi-van, I looked up and there, looming in front of me, was a gigantic, three-story, sparkling new McDonald's restaurant. My first reaction can best be described as sensory disorientation: Where was I? I remember muttering to Rubie, "I didn't fly all the way from Boston to eat at McDonald's!" But of course I did, and have . . .

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